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Meet Aixe Djelal, the ‘helmetographer’ behind BicycleHead

Posted by on June 8th, 2015 at 11:46 am

bicycleheadlead

All images by Aixe Djelal.

I’m not sure how I stumbled onto the work of Aixe Djelal (pronounced “eye-SHAY ja-LAL”), but now I find myself checking her latest images several times per week. I think it’s the randomness of them, or maybe it’s how she captures the ephemeral vignettes I often see myself but rarely capture.

bicyclehead-aixe-double

Djelal, the woman behind the BicycleHead website and Instagram account has been publishing (almost) daily images of Portland bike riders since May 2013. What sets her images apart is that she never even looks at her subject and all her shots are completely hands-free.

That’s because Djelal is a self-described “helmetographer” whose images are created with a camera mounted to her helmet that’s always on during her daily bike commute. The result is a running narrative of what it’s like to ride a bike in Portland in all it’s exhilirating, fun, stressful, annoying — and always interesting — glory.

I recently caught up with Djelal and asked her a few questions via email…

First, a bit of personal background. What part of town do you live in?

I live in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

How long have you lived in Portland?

I moved here in 1989 to go to Reed College, and I’ve lived here ever since (with the exception of graduate school in Arizona, which made me love cycling in Portland even more). The bicycle has been my primary form of transportation most of my life.

What do you do when not taking bike photos?

I’m a senior web project manager at OHSU and I also help my husband Matt Proctor run his electric guitar making business, M-tone Guitars. When I’m not riding my bike, you can usually find me walking all over Portland. I also like to take photos of local bands and BMX freestyle jams, and I daydream about extending my helmetography project all over the world.

What motived you to start BicycleHead?

In 2013, an irate driver tried to run me off the road in downtown Portland. I got a helmet camera to capture video of my rides in case another driver threw a baby fit about cyclists using the road. Once I saw a couple of my rides on video, I realized I was getting some cool scenes of Portland that would be a lot more interesting as still photography. The goal of my helmetography is to share Portland from a year-round bicycle commuter’s point of view. People all over the world seem to have an interest in Portland bicycle culture right now, and my helmetography helps paint a picture of what it’s like to ride here.

What is your camera set-up and how do you get your shots?

I use a Contour Roam2 camera mounted on a Bell Muni helmet. The camera has a 170 degree lens which gives the photos a slightly fish-eyed dreamy look. It is set to intervelometer mode: as soon as I turn it on it automatically shoots a still every three seconds. I discovered that I get better photos when I point the camera backwards, so I do that most of the time. My standard commute is six miles round trip, though sometimes I will ride different, longer routes to keep the helmetography fresh. I like riding slowly, so every night I sort through 500-900 photos and keep maybe a couple. It’s a somewhat compulsive, time consuming project, but I really love sharing Portland through my bicycle commuter lens.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve captured on camera?

Some of my most interesting shots are of infrequent snow (mostly because it’s unusual), tail lights in thick fog, a guy shoving a crossfit sled down the street like Sisyphus, a right to sleep demonstration that was an offshoot of Occupy Portland, and most recently, the protest ride in response to the uptick of motorists hitting cyclists in May 2015. After 26 years, I consider Portland a fairly normal place to live and ride, but when people from other places see my photos they are surprised how many cyclists there are on the road.At this point I plan to keep on going with my helmetography. I enjoy it, others seem to as well, and I am happy show what a joy it is to ride a bicycle!

Check out a few more of Djelal’s images below, or see them all at BicycleHead.com.

2014-09-12_sunny_tieandtruck

“The necktie and the truck” (9/12/14)

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wedgeofbluethroughunderpass

“Wedge of blue through underpass” (1/24/14)
cyclist-streaming-away-from-sunset

“Cyclists streaming away from sunset.” (4/22/15)
2014-07-22_cloudy_doggybag

“Doggy bag” (7/22/14)
2015-05-12_downboundtrain

“Downbound train” (5/12/15)
2015-04-20_shadows-gliding-down-salmon-street

“Shadows gliding down Salmon Street.” (4/20/15)

BicycleHead.com

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jeg
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jeg

I love this. Can we start a program to give cams to daily commuters so we can have a log of issues going on in the city? It can be like cop lapel cams, but this will be used to provide ongoing evidence of problem spots. Someone needs to apply for a grant and start organizing… She has the potential to make this a city-wide effort that affects change. Push more!

SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

These are awesome, and particularly so since we apparently cover much of the same terrain (inner SE, Hawthorne, downtown, …). Just saw a friend make it in on page 5.

Lester Burnham
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Lester Burnham

I should start recording all the stop sign runners along the Going and Klickitat neighborhood greenways. I think the greenways provide a false sense of security. Cars just don’t seem to want to stop.

Rebecca
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Rebecca

There are a few routes in Portland that have grand vistas or overlooks, but it’s the compilation of common scenes like these – the long late afternoon shadows, the concrete no-man’s land beneath the freeways and such – that make bicycling the infinitely interesting experience that it is.

I never stop to take pictures, though. Beautifully captured, Aixe.

Pete
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Pete

Nice write-up on a cool project! People talk about using cameras to document lawbreakers, but I’ve recently started using a Hero4 to document infrastructure and traffic situations. I’ve been able to work with planners to change a few different intersections by illustrating the natural behavior of drivers and bicyclists, and I’ve done some markup on still images showing alternatives that have proven worthy of adoption (and also got some potholes and seams filled and fresh paint applied in the process).

No where NEAR as fun a use as this, though, for sure! 🙂

caesar
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caesar

I need a helmet cam.

Literally one hour ago I turned left rom Naito northbound onto NW Davis, headed west towards the hills. The blocks are very short and the traffic lights aren’t synchronized, so no matter how fast one travels one will need to stop at the next corner’s light. A pickup truck raced up behind me (I was taking the lane due to parked cars) and honked aggressively while I came to a stop at NW 5th Ave, waiting for green signal. At first I thought he couldn’t be honking at me, because…the light was red – where was I supposed to go?. But the guy (40-ish, caucasian, goatee, baseball cap) stuck his head out the window and began yelling at the top of his lungs for me to get the hell off the street because I don’t pay road taxes. The lights still being red and with nowhere to go I answered that I had just as much of a right to use the streets,blah, blah, blah, etc, etc, etc. His response was to gun the engine and make sharp little advances towards me, stopping about three feet from my rear tire. I moved to the curb and watched him hang a left on a red light at NW 5th and disappear. I didn’t manage to get his plate numbers because, frankly, I was just stunned and scared, but he was driving a white pickup truck with some kind of “Portland Construction” something or other company logo on it.

This has never happened to me before, in years of riding, in Texas, California, New Mexico, and Hawaii.

chasingbackon
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chasingbackon

A few months ago i was nearly run over by a driver who failed to yield while i was IN THE CROSSWALK at 75th and Powell. The driver then rolled down his window and yelled at me”how the hell am I supposed to see you”? Not really sure, except look. The other lane in the same direction, figured it out.

While it’s a sad state of affairs that the platinum portland has come to this, I’ve started riding with a gopro.

Dwaine Dibbly
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Dwaine Dibbly

Excellent photo project, Aixe. Keep it up!

I agree that a repository for still & videos take by Portland bike commuters could become a resource with lots of potential. Not sure how it could be set up, though. Individual accounts pointing to Google cloud storage, all interlinked by a main page of some sort?

Jir
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Jir

I saw an offering of beautiful art, where others saw an opportunity for catching the bad guys. It just makes me sad that fear and anger (although justified) seems to have marred what is beautiful.

Eric
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Eric

Aixe, I have sympathy for you whenever you have to give your name to someone (restaurant hostess, phone support persons, etc) . I suspect you probably have a pseudonym you use frequently. Keep up the good work.

El Biciclero
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El Biciclero

If only there were some way for BicycleHead to counteract CarHead…

Loran
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Loran

Thanks so much for posting this, Jonathan! Love the website & pictures!

Maria
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Maria

I’d love to capture all the stuff I see riding on N Williams. I’m definitely going to look into getting a helmet cam.